Finding a Hmong Language Mentor
So you want to find a Hmong Language Mentor….
A key part of self-directed language learning, mentors are an excellent way to grow your skills, check your progress, and build the type of community and camaraderie that makes language learning possible. When searching for a Hmong language mentor, the first and most important thing is to be specific in your search. Hmong comes in a variety of dialects, and while they are mutually intelligible, its important to find someone who can work with the dialect you’re familiar with (especially when you’re still a novice). While you should always ask what dialect your potential mentor speaks, an easy way to help narrow your search is to think geographically; for example, most Hmong Americans speak Hmong Dawb (White Hmong) dialect! A little bit of research goes a long way and can really help ease the process of finding an appropriate mentor who can meet your needs. Another type of specificity that is worth thinking about revolves around your own language goals. Because Hmong is spoken throughout a diaspora, the Hmong language is constantly updating, taking in loan words and coming up with new phrases for the different concepts that become important in different contexts. For example, if you’re interested in learning advanced medical terminology, you might want to seek out a language mentor who is familiar with the medical field, as many of the words and phrases used to refer to Western medicine are comparatively recent, specialized to the field more than they are a part of the vernacular.
Okay, enough about the specifics. Where would I look to find a Hmong language mentor?
Again, you probably want to be more specific. As a global diaspora, there are Hmong speakers around the world, located in places like the United States, France, Australia, China, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Thinking about things like time changes and preferred dialect can help you narrow down your area of interest, as can the future work you plan on doing. A language mentor from Vietnam would naturally be able to tell you much more about the local culture than a Hmong American could, but at the same time, communication and organization might be easier if you speak a common language other than the Hmong you’re trying to learn. There are a ton of different networks that will allow you to reach out to native Hmong speakers; churches and religious networks often have a global reach throughout the diaspora, as do family organizations (like clan councils!), and representatives of these networks can often be contacted online.
Another great option is to look for specific language or cultural organizations. In the United States, cities like St. Paul, Sacramento, Fresno, and Milwaukee all play host to a variety of these groups. In addition to offering potential language mentors, these organizations will often host educational opportunities of their own and be able to point you towards useful resources you can use for self-study. In places like China, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, similar organizations can be extremely helpful. With that being said, it is important to tread carefully. The political situation (especially in Laos) can be tricky, and it is worth doing some preliminary research to ensure that you and the organizations you are reaching out to don’t run into any unexpected difficulties.
If all of this seems like a bit much, don’t worry! There are an incredible amount of online resources that can help. Social media is full of native Hmong speakers working to grow and preserve the language. These individuals often have networks of their own, and can point you in the right direction even if they themselves are unable to serve as a language mentor. Additionally, colleges and universities can help guide you towards a suitable mentor; UW-Madison, UMN-Twin Cities, UC-San Diego, and Chiang Mai University all have excellent language programs, resources, and networks, to name a few.
I’ve found a mentor, but I’m nervous! What do I do?
There is no secret to connecting with a Hmong Language Mentor, and anyone who claims to know the secret to understanding Hmong culture is probably living in an Orientalist fantasy of their own making. Communication, respect, and shared goals form the basis of any working relationship, and native Hmong speakers are no different. The Hmong diaspora is filled with diversity, and not every (or even most) native speakers are going to be experts in history, culture, or whatever else you might be hoping to learn. At the end of the day, it’s important to appreciate the diversity of the Hmong diaspora. Do your research, understand that your mentor is, in almost every case, doing you a favor, and come in with real humility. Ultimately, the global reach of the Hmong language lends itself to a plethora of opportunities to find and connect with a language mentor that is right for you. This guide has (hopefully) given you a place to start, but the rest? Well, the rest is up to you!